The great service that Catholicism is designed to perform in the modern world is to recover its voice. Chesterton was right. Heresy and error are more dangerous than sin. We see this every day but we are afraid to say so. The sacrament of penance was provided to deal with sin. But it was the magisterium that was established to deal with error, sin, and heresy. When this latter purpose is neglected, the former purpose in today’s world becomes practically unutilized. Few go to confession because of their sins. No one sins because no one knows the connection between ideas and acts. It is ideas that originate and justify acts. It is not enough to talk of love of neighbor as if that had no structure or content to it. In today’s world, to tell someone to “love” someone can mean almost anything. Many a sin has some skewered idea of love at its origin. It can include those acts that undermine any possibility of love in the Christian sense.
The Catholic Church is the last bastion of truth in the modern world in so far as it hands down what it was taught and upholds the reason that alone can receive it. It is often chastised for holding what have come to be unpopular truths. But this upholding is one of its primary purposes for existing. It is right to prefer discussion to turmoil and violence. But we also knows that many cannot hear it and many others will not listen to it.
We are often covert “progressives” who think that, in this world, the truth will win out. Scripture often seems to suggest the opposite. This means that the place of the Catholic Church in the modern world is there where truth is affirmed. It will often be hated for this service to the world. And it is hated. But it itself is to be judged, as it knows, by its persistence in keeping before us the truths that were revealed to it. We have even come to reject the light of reason to which this transcendent truth addressed itself and brought out in our own understanding of real things.
Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. is a teacher, writer, and philosopher. Most recently, he was Professor of Political Philosophy in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, from which he retired in 2012.